About three years ago, Third Day had a meeting with the folks from Grand Canyon University to entertain the possibility of those guys sponsoring our Make Your Move Tour. Early in the meeting, it was mentioned that we had the option of taking some classes as part of the deal. I’m sure the rest of the meeting was great, but I didn’t notice. My head was kind of spinning.

One of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had in my life was when I had to tell my mom that I was dropping out of school. This was 1995. The band was getting really busy, and to say that I was falling behind in my studies was a massive understatement. It was the right decision to make, but that doesn’t mean it was the easy one.

Back at our meeting in 2010, I had to pinch myself. Now I was really being given the opportunity to go back to school. Out there was just a little glimmer of hope that maybe I might earn a degree after all. Over the next few months as I got ready to start school, I thought about what an amazing experience this was going to be.

A funny thing happens when dreams start happening in real life. You have this idealized version of how it’s going to be, and then when you start living it out, it never plays out exactly like you imagined. I had pictured myself being this great student, keeping up with my studies and being really on top of things. Real life would prove to be a little bit different.

The first term started the day after Christmas in 2010. It had snowed in Atlanta – the first true ‘white Christmas” I could remember in forever. The kids were playing outside in the snow and having a blast; meanwhile I was inside staring at a computer screen, trying to figure out how to log in to my classes. That New Year’s Eve I scrambled to finish the first assignment. A week later I was on vacation in Arizona when I got the grade back from my second assignment. I had formatted it wrong, so my grade was a 0. As reality set in, I was beginning to remember something that I hadn’t thought about since the mid ’90’s.

School is hard. 

Over the next few weeks, I worked really hard, turning in all my assignments on time. Meanwhile, Third Day went to Brazil and then to Haiti. Then we started our spring tour. The internet is difficult to access in other countries, which is understandable. It’s next to impossible to log on from a a moving tour bus, which is downright frustrating.

I got through the first couple of classes on the sheer excitement of going back to school. The next two or three after that I got through because I really enjoyed my major. I was doing Christian studies, and it was exhilerating to be able to dig in, study the Bible, and learn about the foundations of my faith.

Then about a year in, I had what Jimmy Carter would call a “crisis of confidence”. I was taking a class on hermeneutics, which is basically learning how to accurately read and interpret the Bible. I had really been looking forward to this one, but again, reality offered a different picture. Many of the assignments involved making diagrams, kind of like the ones you’d do in high school English class. I am totally inept at formatting Word documents. This class I had been so stoked about quickly turned into the bane of my existence.

We were on tour with Matt Maher, and most of the tour had gone to church together one Sunday. Our show was in Corpus Christi, Texas, so going back to the venue from church involved a beautiful walk along the Gulf of Mexico. Riding on the spiritual high of the church service, the scenery, and the fellowship, I went back and worked on my assignment. I finished early, which was something of a miracle. I had it done and turned in before the show. A few days later, I got my grade back: an ‘F’. You see, in my excitement for finishing my schoolwork early, I didn’t read all of the directions. I basically only turned in half of the assignment.

Gut check time.

Somewhere around this time, I read an online article. I can’t remember where it was, so I can’t give proper credit. But the gist of the article was that one of the most important skills you can learn in life is how to hold a long term goal in mind, no matter what. It pretty much blew my mind, so I’m going to say it again, with bold lettering:

One of the most important skills you can learn in life is how to hold a long term goal in mind, NO MATTER WHAT.

And that is the most important lesson I learned from going back to school online, Charlie Brown. I am convinced that if you can learn this skill and use it over and over again, you will have, as Thoreau said “a success not seen in common hours.”

After that lesson, learned the hard way, I upped my resolve. I finished that course, and got an ‘A’. I accepted that fact that I’m a procrastinator, and learned to be okay with it. Yes, I put everything off until the last minute, but I always got it done. I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t, and instead worked from the place of the person that I was. I turned in assignments on the road, and I turned in assignments at home (which was usually harder!). I worked in dressing rooms, on tour buses, and even on a cruise ship. The most difficult was probably when we played an Indian reservation with no Internet or even cell service to speak of. On Sundays, I regularly stayed up til 3 AM, and still got up to take the kids to school the next morning.

Two months ago, I got my diploma. Not only did I graduate, but I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 3.96 GPA. School ended up being very different from my initial dream for it. But in a way, it was so much better because it really happened.

So based on my experience, what I’m suggesting you do is some soul searching. Figure out what that one thing is in your heart. The one thing you’re kind of scared to talk about. And go after it. You have other goals? Great. Forget them for now. You can focus on them later. For now, focus on one thing.

That. One. Thing. 

I promise it will be 10 times harder than you ever could imagine, but when you accomplish it, it will be 10 times sweeter.

Have you ever accomplished a long term goal? How did you maintain your focus? Do you have any other ideas? Do you think I’m crazy? Do tell. Use the comments below and let me know!